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Jason: He's the most lethal video game creature ever! He towers above you with fists like anvils! Skulls litter the ground at his feet! And you're not supposed to even try to take this guy on in a fight??... Wow, talk about counter-intuitive.
You've entered a boss fight. It seems like nothing you do to the boss can faze it, and anything you try to do results in it counterattacking with deadly force. But then the player character hears something. Perhaps sage advice from a Spirit Advisor, or perhaps the boss itself is taunting you by informing you that anything you do to attack it will only make it stronger. Either way, you've just been told to stop trying to fight the boss.
So you do nothing but sit there and defend yourself. Eventually the boss fades away, or becomes bored, or whatever, and you attain a victory through pacifism. This is the trope in a nutshell — where the only way to win is to stop trying to beat the boss, and wait for it to give up on its own accord.
Anime & Manga
- In Vision of Escaflowne, dragons are empathic and respond to human (or possibly just Draconian) emotions. Come at them all aggressive-like and they'll tear you a new one (unless you're just Badass enough to take them on). Throw down your sword and make with the peacefulness, and they'll get bored and wander off.
- Used in the Brave Story movie during the climactic battle against their respective doppelgangers. The hero Wataru ends up winning the fight by accepting that his shadow is a part of himself, all the parts of himself that he was afraid to acknowledge. The anti-hero Mitsuru wins the fight by stabbing his shadow through the chest... and you guessed it, dies of a self-inflicted stab wound.
- Naruto did pretty much the same thing against his inner darkness, and even acknowledges that it actually helped him in some points of his life.
- Fairy Tail has this during the S Class trial arc. Natsu has to fight Gildarts in order to advance. After putting up a good fight, Gildarts says that Natsu is just missing one critical element to pass...and then he stops holding back his power. Natsu is so scared that he falls to his knees and admits defeat, which is exactly what Gildarts was hoping for.
- Mysterious Girlfriend X: Best option to use against panty scissors, unless you have your own special attack.
- In Bleach Ichigo enters some last minute training with Zangetsu before his final battle with Aizen. Zangetsu explains that he won't simply tell Ichigo the ultimate technique of his power and proceeds to fight him. After a bit of swordplay that doesn't seem to go anywhere, Ichigo figures out he won't learn the secret by pure force but rather by letting Zangetsu stab him. This is exactly what the spirit wanted and gives Ichigo his power for the final confrontation.
- Referenced in a FoxTrot strip. Jason, frustrated that he'd tried everything he could think of to beat a boss, leaves the room for a minute. When he returns, he finds out that his sister Paige "beat" the boss... by simply walking past it. Their mother tells Jason that the message is obviously "Discretion is the better part of valor", but he's too upset to care.
- Superman once defeated the Hulk by allowing him to wail on his indestructible body until the Hulk wore himself out and reverted back to Banner. Doubly so, he also spotted and destroyed a microscopic irritant that was keeping the Hulk enraged.
- Arguably the way Scott Pilgrim deals with The Negascott.
- One incarnation of Justice League of America villain Amazo could adjust to duplicate the powers and abilities of any incarnation of the Justice League, so the more reserves they call in the more powerful he becomes. The Atom realized that this Amazo was a "one-man-Justice-League" on a conceptual level, and therefore Superman had the one power that could defeat him; the power to disband the JLA.
- As one of his trials to become Sorcerer Supreme, Doctor Strange had to meet Death in combat. After doing everything he could to fight or escape Death, he resigned himself to defeat, surrendered entirely to it — and became immortal.
Films — Live Action
- Used in the movie version of Prince Caspian, when Caspian, after seeing an entire squadron of Telmarine assassins downed by something underfoot, is himself tripped and set upon by the unseen assailant... Reepicheep the Mouse. Reepicheep orders Caspian to retrieve his sword and face him in honorable combat, as he refuses to kill an unarmed man. Caspian's reply: "Then I'll live longer if I don't." Reepicheep doesn't have infinite patience, though, so this tactic doesn't last Caspian forever.
- Joshua's lesson in War Games.
- At the end of The Matrix Trilogy, Neo defeats Smith by allowing himself to be assimilated, thus providing the Source with a direct line into its rebellious ex-servant.
- In Resident Evil Apocalypse, LJ is confronted by Nemesis. LJ drops his weapons and puts his hands up. Nemesis' HUD designates him a non-combatant and leaves.
- When Duncan has The Guardian at his mercy in Highlander the Source, he insists that Duncan beheads him and takes his place. Duncan refuses and goes to claim the prize. This makes The Guardian explode.
- In the Choose Your Own Adventure series World of Lone Wolf book 4, Beyond the Nightmare Gate, the Chaos Master sends against the hero Grey Star his evil doppelganger; both seek the Moonstone, and he attacks you when you finally find it. If you win the fight, you die, but if you don't fight, or if you lose the fight, he dies and you win.
- In the RPG-inspired book, manga, and movie Brave Story, the hero, Wataru, gets thrown into a Mirror Boss with a shadowy version of himself. He and it proceed to beat each other up, with neither side truly winning, until Wataru realizes that he can't fight it. It's made up of all his fear, anger, hatred, and sorrow — his negative emotions. And no matter what he does, all his negative emotions will always be part of him. Instead, he accepts it, and he comfortably takes it back into himself. Mitsuru isn't so lucky...
- In the game-within-a-story of Ender's Game, Ender consistently reaches a tower in the game, crushes a snake that tries to kill him, and gets himself killed trying to proceed. Fed up, he eventually picks the snake up and tries to get it to bite him--but he screws up the control input and accidentally kisses it. It turns into his sister, because the Rule of Symbolism is weird like that.
- In The Android's Dream, two Virtual Ghosts argue over the proper way to deal with a situation, and the more experienced one proposes to make her point with a simulation of the battle in which the less experienced one originally died. She'll take control of the enemy forces, he'll control the forces he fought in, and his job is to keep it from becoming a bloodbath like it did in real life. His forces are too badly outgunned to ever win, so in the final iteration he surrenders at the first sight of the enemy, preserving the lives of all his troops.
- In Witches Brew, the fifth book in the Landover series, one of the champions sent by Lord Rydall, the fake Big Bad of the book, is a knight resembling the Paladin, the champion of Landover and King Ben Holiday's personal protector. (And his other persona — it's complicated.) The Paladin fights the knight but finds his opponent can perfectly match him blow for blow. The knight is only defeated when the Paladin sheathes his weapon and disappears, causing his doppelganger to do the same.
- In the Death Gates series by Weiss and Hickman, the evil dragons feed on violence and hatred : Haplo and Alfred can't win against them by fighting. They still win, though, by renouncing to fight and letting the place they're in at the moment (which has been cursed to ban any violence) use the dragon's own violence against him.
- Drizzt does this in The Dark Elf Trilogy when fighting his father's raised corpse. First, he fights him in a manner that brings out his personality, then he sheathes the swords. His father managed to regain control long enough to exchange a few words, and then jump into the conveniently close acid lake.
Live Action TV
- In the Deep Space Nine episode "The House of Quark", the title Ferengi is challenged to a duel to the death by a Klingon named D'Ghor. Fighting would almost certainly get him killed, but refusing would dishonor the Klingon woman he's been trying to help. His solution is to show up, throw his weapon aside, kneel down, and dare the Klingon to murder him in cold blood, without any honor or glory. D'Ghor goes right ahead and tries it, but Chancellor Gowron stops him and, disgusted at such a dishonorable act, discommendates him on the spot. A Crowning Moment of Awesome for Quark for sure.
- In the Next Generation episode "Hero Worship", a Negative Space Wedgie that destroyed a science vessel is battering the Enterprise repeatedly. Captain Picard orders more and more power to the shields, but the attacks continue to get worse. Data discovers that the anomaly is simply reflecting back all the energy of the ship's deflectors. The solution is instead to drop the shields, giving it nothing to reflect.
- And in the episode "Peak Performance", Data is pitted in a friendly game with a visiting Alien who is the galaxy's champion at this game. He is soundly defeated by the smug alien, unable to match his offense or defense. In a rematch at the end of the episode, Data wins by playing for a tie instead of a victory, rather than trying to gain advantage or take the lead when chances occur, he chooses moves which favor neither player in the long run and promote stalemate. The alien is unable to defeat the android, and storms off in a huff over the maddening strategy.
- In the Red Dwarf episode "Justice", the crew are aboard a penal space station with a section where it's impossible to commit a crime and anyone who attempts it becomes the victim (for example, the punishment for arson is being set on fire). This comes in useful when they have to fight an almost-unbeatable droid, because murder is a crime.
- In Highlander the Series, there's a much-maligned three-episode arc where protagonist Duncan Mac Leod is the Chosen One to fight against the evil demon Ahriman. Violence won't work in this battle, and the only way to defeat Ahriman is for Duncan to achieve inner peace.
Table Top Games
- Many Card games lists a lose condition as running out of cards to draw. This has led to the "Deck out" style of play, where you force your opponent to excessively draw until they run out of cards, and do nothing else but defend against attacks. The downside to this is, of course, giving your opponent immense resources and could possibly allow him to pull off a powerful combo.
- A Planescape quest titled The Deva Spark features a battle with a demon who only grows stronger if the players attack it. The only way to win the encounter is to avoid fighting the fiend.
- On a general note, many strategy guides - particularly unofficial ones - advise this strategy against a Hopeless Boss Fight in order to conserve resources - in which case you should not only sheathe your sword, but not do anything.
- Arcanum of Steamworks and Magick Obscura: In a side-quest where you have to remove interlopers from an elven Holy Ground, you have the option of goading them into attacking you so that a curse will kill them for shedding blood. But if you fight back (or if your Automatic Combat Mode is on) you are pretty much screwed by the same curse.
- You can order Virgil to hold position somewhere nearby so that he can't reach the fight until everyone is already dead; the Resurrection spell, however, can be cast at long distance. If he casts it on you before combat ends, the game over screen doesn't appear. Yes, you can end up cheating the peaceful elven hippie curse using a combo of preemptive violence and necromancy!
- Final Fantasy IV had Cecil go through this to cast off his dark past and become a Paladin. Considering the message that you got if you attacked, this is probably the Trope Namer.
- The literal reason behind this working becomes a Guide Dang It moment in the US port of the SNES version. You win because you're fighting yourself, but still as a Dark Knight who he keeps using its "Darkness" ability, which damages every unit at the cost of its own HP until it kills itself. However, in the US version you didn't have this when Cecil was still a Dark Knight, so you'd have no idea that he was losing health.
- Of course, with sufficient Level Grinding, you could get bigger healing potions that could restore all of your health at once, leaving you free to attack. With enough of these, you could whittle down the Dark Knight quite easily. Yes, you can defeat your inner darkness by beating the crap out of it!
- In the sequel, you can try this with Kain, but his dark side is a bit too powerful for it to work, kicking off the main plot thread of the Prologue.
- The Bonus Dungeon in the GBA remake also features a similar situation for Kain. After a few turns of defending, Dark!Kain turns into Lunar Bahamut, and then you can wail on him.
- And Final Fantasy V made your party "fight" the Mimic by mimicking the Mimic mimicking you — i.e doing absolutely nothing. He would congratulate you, and yield if you did so for awhile.
- Gogo can be beaten with proper tactics, but if you waste too much time reaching the boss and escaping, you'll drown.
- Final Fantasy IX also has Ozma, a bonus boss that can be defeated this way, by letting your characters counter attack, since inputting actions causes it to have an immediate turn.
- In Tales of Symphonia Dawn of the New World, getting the best ending requires that you do nothing, and let Lloyd and Marta defeat you at the end before being able to proceed.
- In The Darkness, you are required to combat a dark version of yourself, whom you defeat by putting your weapons away.
- The final boss in the Flash game Inquisitive Dave becomes aware of his "role" as a final boss and becomes stronger for it. Your refusal to fight him robs him of his purpose, and he eventually fades.
- The final duel in Suikoden II... providing that you have fulfilled a number of other requirements, the Best Ending requires you to never attack, but just block for a number of rounds. If you attack even once, you get a Bittersweet Ending. You also get one if you Sheathe Your Sword, but haven't met the other requirements.
- The Beast under Athkathla in Baldur's Gate 2 has to be defeated by not fighting him... Although in this particular case you have to actually HEAL him. Would be a case of Revive Kills Zombie if it weren't for the fact that it explicitly states feeding on hostility and hostile emotions (and so the implication goes that it was your kindness that beat him, not the healing per se).
- The dancing zombies in the fifth level of Monster Party for the NES — do nothing, and you win.
- The Prince's mirror reflection in the original Prince of Persia games would kill you if you tried to fight it, but if you sheathed your sword and walked into it, it would absorb into you.
- Something similar happens in Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones. When finally facing off against The Dark Prince, hitting him causes him to duplicate. The only way to win is to walk away from the fight.
- In the Mecha fight at the end of Escape from Monkey Island, both Guybrush's robot and LeChuck regenerate health too quick to be able to defeat each other, so the only way to win is by tying in the Monkey Kombat three times, so LeChuck gets tired and Elaine is able to escape.
- In the Knights of the Nine quest in Oblivion, you are given a test of character in which you are told you must show respect to nature. A huge bear appears and attacks you. To pass, you must not fight back.
- In Mysteries of the Sith, the expansion to Jedi Knight, the only way to defeat Kyle after his fall to The Dark Side is to deactivate your sabre and basically dare him to kill you. While a highly appropriate tactic for a Jedi, the lack of ingame pointers that this was even possible led to many players experiencing massive keyboard-snapping frustration.
- Lack of ingame pointers? There's a blatant hint right behind you at the start of the fight.
- In Beyond the Beyond, you can do this when you face off against the Black Knight close to the end of the game. The Black Knight in question is really Annie's brother Percy, who was earlier presumed dead after fighting off a group of Imperial guards. If you decide not to attack him for several rounds, he'll run from the battle and rejoin your party. Should you decide to fight him anyway, his mask will crack, revealing his true face to the party before he dies.
- Mother 3 has a very, very tragic variation of this. The last battle with the final Big Bad comes only moments after the reveal that the said big bad is your long lost twin brother, who was kidnapped, forcibly turned into a robotic chimera, and brainwashed. During the battle the knowledge of this leaves you unable to attack (later on you can try but those attempts are pretty much you closing your eyes and half heartingly swinging) so all you can do is defend and heal as you, your father, and the spirit of you dead mother tries to reach him. In the end he regains senses but then turns his own attack on himself and dies in your arms.
- In Legend of Dragoon, the fight against the corpse of Lavitz in disc four. Defend enough and your party will talk him into turning his back, allowing you to take out the demon possessing him.
- Rise of the Triad has the first form of El Oscuro. Attacking him causes him to eat your missiles and regain energy. You're supposed to run away and let him wear himself out and revert to his snake form, which you chase down and kill. Except that every other challenge in this game essentially boiled down to shoot first, shoot later, shoot some more, and then when everyone's dead, try to ask a question or two, which made this a bit counterintuitive.
- Alone in The Dark 3 has Edward Carnby, soon after coming Back From the Dead, fight a version of himself dressed like a cowboy. He'll match you blow for blow and shot for shot, and the solution is to drop your weapons. He'll merge with you after that. Essentially this is the Prince of Persia battle.
- Ikaruga has an optional variation on this. Your ship can absorb light or dark bullets (and flip freely between being able to absorb either.) The reason to do this is to build up power for your Beam Spam, but it's possible to make it through a whole level without firing a shot. In fact, if you can survive each level bosses barrage of light and dark bullets without shooting back for 100 seconds, then the boss will just fly away and you'll be awarded the rank of 'Dot Eater!' Not to mention that you must survive against the final boss this way.
- In Persona 4, Shadows are the coalesced negative emotions and true feelings that people hide in their innermost hearts. When a Shadow manifests itself, it is typical for its creator to deny it, resulting in it absorbing power and turning into a monstrous abomination --cue the boss fight. But even after you and your teammates defeat it, the Shadow will just stand back up again and again until the character willfully stops fighting and accepts it as part of him/herself.
- Lost Odyssey features a scene where the Big Bad mind-controls one of your party members to attack you. Killing him will end the game, so you have to hold out until the Big Bad decices to blast you himself and leave.
- In Metal Gear Solid 3 Snake Eater, the player cannot damage The Sorrow — He's already dead! The only option is to wait for him to kill you, then use the Revival Pill. Getting as far as possible before being instant killed will net you some special camo though.
- In The Force Unleashed Jedi Temple DLC, when you face the Sith Warrior, at certain points he will transform into a duplicate of Starkiller. When he does this, you must block and/or avoid him until he changes back. If you attack him in this form, his health will be replenished and Starkiller will take the damage instead.
- The first time you fight Darkrai in Pokémon Ranger: Shadows of Almia, this is the strategy you should use to conserve resources and activate the Vatonage Styler.
- In Live a Live, choosing to fight the final boss's final form results in a Zero Effort Boss fight, and the "bad" ending (where nothing happens except the credits roll). You have to choose to walk away from the fight for the real ending to occur.
- In Bit.Trip FLUX, this message is to the player, from the player character in the ending. His journey is over, but yours isn't. Put down the controller and live your life.
- In the original Super Smash Bros, the best way to defeat Pikachu is jump to the tower at the player's right and avoid all attacks, jumping if necessary. Sooner or later, regardless of difficulty, Pikachu will use agility and be rendered unable to jump, falling to his demise.
- Sort of played with as one of the special attacks in The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess, the Mortal Draw, in which you must walk up to the enemy with your sword and shield both put away, and then use a button prompt to spin around while drawing the sword, slashing your front and killing nearly any mook in the game with one shot.
- In Xenogears, during the Inevitable Tournament, you can get Alice's wedding dress from Dan during Fei's boss fight with him by constantly defending and healing instead of attacking. You can attack him too, but then you won't get the item.
- In Mortal Kombat 9, this is how Raiden defeats Shao Kahn. By letting Kahn merge Earth and Outworld without winning Mortal Kombat, Raiden is able to finally spur the Elder Gods into action, and use their power to destroy Kahn. "He must win!"
- The XBLA indie shooter Shoot 1UP features shields that form and expand around your ships when you refrain from shooting. Firing while an enemy is inside a shield unleashes a "shield attack," which earns you much higher bonuses than shooting around blindly. It's essential in order to rack up huge scores.
- This strip in Order of the Stick.
- In-universe example in Girl Genius, where Gil is fighting a 'training clank' which counters every attack and learns from previous battles. Agatha shuts it down — by walking right up to it, figuring that it won't defend itself against someone who isn't attacking it.
- In Eight Bit Theater, Red Mage is forced to face the embodiment of his Pride. After trying everything, he gives up, saying he cannot win, which causes Pride to disappear, since he showed humility. Red Mage concludes that his mind must be so brilliant it found a way to defeat its opponent subconsciously.
- When facing an Evil Twin made up purely of his aggression and negative emotions, Samurai Jack realized he could only win by not fighting and returning to true peace inside himself.
- Batman the Brave And The Bold: The normally unrestrained OMAC eventually manages to defeat the supervillain Shrapnel by using a force field to protect against Shrapnel's blows while refusing to counterattack — which meant that Shrapnel had no source of power to replenish himself with.
- Justice League Unlimited: Wonder Woman, Hawk, and Dove face an unstoppable magical robot that feeds on aggression. Dove beats it by... not fighting, or rather by getting analogues of North and South Korea to stop fighting.
- And then everyone forgets that this works the next time the machine starts up.
- They remember and use it. But unfortunately, there has been a very Obvious Rule Patch
- And then everyone forgets that this works the next time the machine starts up.
- In the Adventure Time episode "Tree Trunks", Finn, Jake and Tree Trunks find the Crystal Gem Apple but are confronted by a Crystal Guardian, who copies everything they do - and since it's a great deal harder than either Finn or Jake, they only manage to hurt themselves when they try to attack it. Tree Trunks, in the meantime, starts playing with some mildly disturbing skull-faced butterflies, and when the Crystal Guardian starts copying her as well, Finn and Jake realize that the Crystal Guardian will only attack them if they attack first.
- In the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) episode "The Ancient One", Leo is set to fight a losing battle against a group of demon ghosts, who can't be touched or harm, but who can touch and kill him. Although Leo is initially reluctant to follow the titular Ancient One's advice and just give up, he eventually does so, which saves him, as the demons immediately cease their attack.
- In SpongeBob SquarePants, when Flats challenges Spongebob. Spongebob wins when Flats gets tired.
- This is basically the premise behind the martial art of Aikido, both philosophically (if you fight, you will lose against someone, it's only a matter of time) and pragmatically (the techniques emphasis the fact that you should not fight the opponent i.e. oppose his intention/movement or try to struggle with him). YMMV whether this is a straight example of Sheathe Your Sword or a atypical approach towards, well, fighting.
- A lot of martial arts that are applicable towards self defense seem to recommend the Screw This, I'm Outta Here school of self-defense: when confronted by (for instance) a mugger, you turn the hell around and run your ass off. The "martial" part of the martial arts regimen only comes into play when cowardice doesn't cut it. To be fair, martial arts like Tai Chi and Aikido delve into a lot of philosophy and lifestyle choices that reinforce the training and are designed to steer you in that direction by default. A battle won is a battle not fought, as the saying goes.
- Gandhi's resistance to the British empire. If the citizens had actively fought back against the empire (instead of resisting passively), they would have been violently suppressed by Britain's superior military, and the rest of the world would have thought it justified, since the soldiers were only defending themselves.
- This only worked because of the British Moral Dissonance not really registering how brutal their regime was until they had to enforce it on people who refused even token resistance. Gandhi himself admitted it wouldn't have worked on someone like the Nazis that just didn't care.
- The U.S. Black civil rights movement of the 60s. Fighting would have given their enemies ammunition.
- There is a Zen parable where a samurai asks a master if there is an afterlife and what it is like. The master challenged him, saying what sort of question was that for a samurai, and what a worthless samurai would ask it. The furious samurai grabbed his sword and began to draw it, to which the master shouted, "Here open the gates of hell!" The shamed samurai, realizing his error, sheathed his weapon and asked for forgiveness to which the master whispered, "And here open the gates of heaven."
- Nuclear war can be said to be this: The minute one nuclear weapon launches, it triggers a retaliatory strike by everybody with nuclear weapons. Game over.
- Of course, there's that Oxygen Meter in the corner to keep an eye on...